Saturday, April 19, 2008

Achievement Gaps

Brian Micklethwait raised the following point with regard to the research from the Fraser Institute.

"The usual assumption, which I have tended to some extent to accept (in the absence of knowing any evidence about it), is that home-schooling is fine when done by well-educated parents, but perhaps rather less fine when done by less well-educated parents. But now read this, from the Fraser Institute:

TORONTO, ON—Home schooling appears to improve the academic performance of children from families with low levels of education, according to a report on home schooling released today by independent research organization The Fraser Institute.

The evidence is particularly interesting for students who traditionally fall through the cracks in the public system,” said Claudia Hepburn, co-author of Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream, 2nd edition and Director of Education Policy with The Fraser Institute.

“Poorly educated parents who choose to teach their children at home produce better academic results for their children than public schools do. One study we reviewed found that students taught at home by mothers who never finished high school scored a full 55 percentage points higher than public school students from families with comparable education levels.”

Brian assumed that we in the HE community would know this already, and yes, this phenomenon has been something of which we have been aware certainly since Paula Rothermel pointed it out in her research on HE families in the UK back in 1999. Paula's main explanation for this seems to be that the less well-educated parents are very aware of their short-comings and go to great lengths to compensate for this. I have indeed seen this dynamic at work, but, as Dr Rothermel was well aware, there could be plenty of other things going on too.

For example, she suggests that the happy home and the absence of pressure from schooling contributes to improved academic performance, which is almost certainly the case, but I would also hazard that one of the main reasons for this result stems from the fact that home educators, whatever their level of education, are largely a self-selecting group of mostly thoughtful, creative people. They have guts and nous and their children are likely to inherit those characteristics one way or another. The results of self-selecting for such individuals is likely to look good.

Then again, it is also the case that most HE parents are just so heavily involved, either in the direct teaching of the child, (the more transmissive model of learning) or in being available to help the child to learn whatever they want to learn (the facilitative model of education).

Actually, I only became acutely aware of the constantly high degree of sense of responsibility and need for involvement in the education of one's children recently when for the first time in six years that I spent a couple of days without either of my kids and I found that the pressure that I assumed was a normal part of life simply lifted. Yep, it was a nice holiday, but the thing is, isn't this level of responsibility really what parenting is meant to be about? Schooling parents can absolve themselves of this sense of duty to their children for at least part of every school day. Perhaps at least some of them forget to pick up the mantle again when the children come home and perhaps this could account for the differences in achievement between HEKs and schooled children.

Then again, it could come back to numbers: all that one-to-one stuff. Or it could come down to the fact that even if you use a transmissive model of education, HEors are far more likely to pursue the child's interests, which means you are likely to get far further far quicker.

Quite probably, it is all these reasons and/or others. Either way HE looks good!


ruth said...

I've just been reading "Educating Children at Home" by Alan Thomas and he references research by Tizard and Hughes (I ordered the book "Young Children Learning" yesterday) which looked at the quality of conversational learning at home vs nursery school. Here's the blurb for the book:

"Young Children Learning" provides vivid insight into the way young children think, talk, and learn from their mothers. It reveals the richness of the home as a learning environment and shows how much children can learn through the ordinary conversations of everyday life.

The book describes a research study in which four-year-old girls were tape-recorded talking to their mothers at home and to their teachers at nursery school. At home the children range freely over a wide variety of topics--work, the family, birth, growing up, death. They talk about plans for the future and puzzle over such diverse topics as the shapes of roofs and chairs, the nature of Father Christmas, and whether the queen wears curlers in bed. In many conversations the children are actively struggling to understand a new idea or the meaning of an unfamiliar word. These "passages of intellectual search" show the children to be persistent and logical thinkers.

In sharp contrast, the conversations between these same children and their nursery school teachers lack richness, depth, and variety. The questioning, puzzling child is gone: in her place is a child who seems subdued and whose conversations with adults are mainly restricted to answering questions rather than asking them. These observations show how strongly young children can be affected by the move from one setting to another, and they suggest that, even at the nursery stage, children reserve their best thinking for outside the classroom, with a resulting compartmentalization of the knowledge they acquire at school.

The book challenges the widely held belief that parents need to learn from professionals how to educate and bring up their children;above all, it persuades us to value parenting more highly and to have respect for the intellectual capabilities of young minds.

Carlotta said...

Oddly enough, I've fairly recently read the Tizard book too and would put it in my top 30 books of all time, I think and this for many reasons, but it would have been enough in that I found the book to be so motivating since it served to remind me of the educational importance of all those apparently fairly innocuous, mundane and sometimes circular conversations one has with younger children.

Fab book and yes, I totally agree that it could provide an extremely good explanation for the rise in HEK's performance when compared to schooled kids. HEKs just get so much more of this type of conversation.

Bishop Hill said...

How strange. I've just finished Hughes & Tizard too. Is it something in the water?

Raquel said...

Maybe they are looking at it the wrong way. It should be that home educated children get the optimum education and that anything that diverges from home education will be proportionally negative. So a child in their home is going to be getting personalised learning, lots of attention, lots of deep discussion...and as the child moves out of the home the child will increasingly LOSE these valuble moments. I hate the way studies start as school being the standard to strive for and being *amazed* when anything but school surpasses school!